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Then & Now photos: Motorcycle cops

Mon., Sept. 19, 2011

Early traffic squads’ bikes came with sidecars and blankets

The motorcycle cops of the 1940s rode year-round, said retired officer Jack Latta, 88, who started patrolling Spokane streets in 1952. When winter came, Latta said, officers added sidecars for stability, canvas fairings for warmth and lap blankets that would direct engine heat to an officer’s legs. Increased comfort through a long day in the saddle is the biggest difference between early bikes and modern ones, said Dan Hite, 78, a longtime mechanic who maintained the city’s motorcycles, including Latta’s. Today, most city, county and Washington State Patrol officers ride either a modern Harley-Davidson V-twin or a Honda 1300 cc bike, with state-of-the-art equipment. Latta recalls when radios were first mounted on bikes. Because the bike’s generator didn’t produce much power, he rode with his transmitter off. When he got a call from dispatch, he would rev the engine and switch on the transmitter to respond. Hite has a fond place in his heart for Latta, who took impeccable care of his bike, especially the engine. Hite later learned that Latta would add a squirt of oil to each tank of gas. “That should be a lesson for everybody,” said Hite.

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